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Rabbits deserve a happy life 

It was National Rabbit Week in the UK recently and the message was to try and do at least one thing to make your rabbit’s life happier. Here are a few tips from the experts.

Diet

We know rabbits as ‘fibrevores’ because fibre is absolutely essential for their dental, digestive and emotional health.

Good quality hay and/or grass should make up the majority of a rabbits’ diet and should be available at all times.

Ensure your rabbits’ are getting plenty of good quality hay such as Burgess Excel Herbage and Forage

Dental

Rabbits’ continuously growing teeth (especially molars) must be kept worn by chewing grass and hay; otherwise the teeth crowns grow too long. If the top and bottom teeth start pressing together when the mouth is closed, the teeth can no longer grow upwards. Instead they grow back-wards into the jaw. It’s these overgrown tooth roots projecting into the jaw and skull that cause so many problems for fibrevores. Uneven wear can also result in sharp spurs developing on the sides of the cheek teeth. These spurs cause painful damage to the soft tissues of the cheeks and the tongue each time the rabbits move their mouths.

Signs that a rabbit is suffering from dental problems are runny eyes, jaw swellings, facial abscesses, difficulty eating, a reduction in the amount of faeces being produced and a reduced interest in eating hay. If you observe any of these symptoms please consult your vet immediately.

Feed your rabbits plenty of fibre

Rabbits need two kinds of fibre in their diet; digestible and indigestible, together we call this Beneficial Fibre. The first gives them essential nutrients and the second keeps their digestive system moving effectively.

Indigestible fibre passes through their digestive system and is excreted as separate, round, hard drop-pings. This process keeps the digestive system moving and stimulates their appetite.

Digestible fibre is moved up into an organ called the caecum – this is like a giant appendix. Good bacteria in the caecum ferment the fibre which then emerges in the form of clumps of sticky droppings called caeco-trophs. Rabbits then re-eat the caecotrophs directly from their bottoms and their systems extract essential nutrition as the digestible fibre passes through the stomach and intestines for the second time. Rabbits will eat the caeco-trophs directly as they pass from the body, generally at quite times of the day/ night, so in a healthy rabbit caecotrophs should never be seen. Finding caecotrophs in the hutch or stuck to your rabbit can be a sign of poor gut health, and you should seek advice from your vet.

Failing to provide adequate portions of the right kind of fibre can rapidly lead to illness, which can some-times be fatal.

Rabbits should be fed at least their own body size in good quality hay, every day

Selective Feeding

Rabbits fed on muesli-style foods will often selectively feed. This is where they pick out the high starch elements of the diet and leave the rest (typically the pellet /high fibre elements). Selective feeding leads to the consumption of an unbalanced diet. In addition, hay intake and water intake are lower when muesli is fed leading to other potential dental and diges-tive issues. Over 90% of vets do not believe muesli style foods should be sold for pet rabbits.

If you are currently feeding a muesli style food to your rabbits you should gradually transfer your pets onto a hay and nugget based feeding plan over a period of between 14 and 28 days, by gradually reducing the amount of muesli and increasing the proportion of nuggets until they have completely replaced the mix. Remember that good quality hay and/or grass should make up the majority of your rabbits’ diet and should be available at all times. Rabbits should also be fed a small amount of leafy greens each day. Please talk to your vet for further information.

Gradually change your rabbits diet over to a nugget and hay based diet over a period of two weeks.

Emotional

In the wild 70% of rabbits’ time above ground is spent searching for grass, hay, plants, herbs and bark to eat.

This foraging behaviour keeps rabbits busy, stimu-lated and exercised. So the right diet is essential to rabbits’ emotional happiness.